Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blue Dog Coalition more involvement in health care negotiations

From The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

The Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative House Democrats who largely hail from Southern and Midwestern states, could prove critical in passage of the Obama administration’s health care policies.

However, some of the group’s members, an organization that includes Georgia Reps. Sanford Bishop of Albany and Jim Marshall of Macon, complain that liberal committee chairmen are shutting them out of the legislation-crafting process.

Last month, 45 Blue Dogs, including Bishop, sent a terse letter to the Democratic chairmen of the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means committees. It stated that the group felt minimized in the process, which is “especially concerning in light of the collaborative approach being taken by our Senate colleagues.”

When congressional leaders unveiled a draft bill earlier this month, the proposal centered heavily on a government-run public health care option, much to the Blue Dogs’ disappointment. There was also no mention of the public option being used only as a fallback that could be triggered years from now, a sticking point for many Blue Dogs.

Blue Dogs like Bishop and Marshall say they remain flexible, to a point, but are adamant that reform not greatly increase the national debt.

“I along with all of my Blue Dog colleagues see health care reform as an opportunity to improve the fiscal and physical health of the country. And we would like to see health care reform legislation that takes advantage of this opportunity,” Marshall said. “Moderate Democrats and Republicans are not going to pass anything that’s really expensive. It behooves leadership to quit wasting time talking about proposals that are going to cost more money.”

However, there are times when members’ ideology puts them at odds with their party. For example, in 2005, Bishop and most of the coalition joined Republicans in voting to limit bankruptcy protection.

“I believe the Blue Dogs will be pivotal in most of the issues Congress is dealing with, and if we have consensus on a position, there are a lot of votes to influence a particular issue,” Bishop said.

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